I'm Having Trouble with Email Anxiety
So far, 2018 has been the most successful year of my freelance career.
But it has also been the most stressful.
Like they say, mo’ money, mo’ problems.
My biggest issue is email anxiety (yes, that’s a real thing—I just wrote about it for a one of my clients). I book the majority of my work through Fiverr. When buyers shop the platform in search of freelancers to hire, they see two metrics tied to my communication: my response rate and my average response time. For the response rate, that’s a measure of whether or not I respond to the initial contact from a new client within 24 hours. It’s not for all communication, just that first message. The response time is more straightforward—on average, how long does it take me to get back to people. Right now, I’m averaging a 2-hour response time. I stress, that’s an average. Some people I answer sooner; some messages come in overnight and I’m unable to respond until the next morning.
But because I know part of my professional success is tagged to these metrics, I feel like I have to answer right away, every day. I’m essentially on call 24-7 unless I’m on vacation. This past Sunday, I spent a large part of my afternoon negotiating project rates and reading proposals. While I was eating breakfast, while I was grocery shopping, , while I was watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. Email was omnipresent.
Fast forward to Monday morning, and my typical feeling of Monday rejuvenation was nowhere to be found; I’d squandered all my feel-good energy on those emails.
This week, I resolved to protect my sanity and try something new—I’d only check my email three times a day. In the morning after breakfast, after lunch, and at the close of the day. I’m fortunate that I work for myself, and I can afford to block out the world for large portions of each day without ruining my business.
But even sticking to this modified schedule has been a struggle so far. I still find myself peeking at my phone every time an email notification pops up, just to see who it is. I don’t answer but knowing that I’ll have to answer at some point is stressful. Knowing that new messages are there still makes me anxious, even if I know I don’t need to answer until later.
It’s like my smartphone is attacking my psyche all day long, and I can’t catch a break. If I completely ignore the emails, there’s a chance I can be dinged in my metrics. If I keep answering right away, I’ll be unable to concentrate on the work at hand. Soon enough, I’ll have the attention span of a two-year-old.
So why is email anxiety even a thing?
The Muse outlines 4 key reasons that we fall victim to it.
One, we’re quite similar to lab rats.
Alyse Kalish writes:
“A psychologist in the 1930’s discovered that rats are more motivated by random rewards (press a lever, receive food at random) than fixed rewards (press a lever, receive food every 100 tries). Similarly, when we refresh our inboxes, we never know when we’ll get a message that interests us (our reward)—but it’s that lingering possibility that keeps us hooked."
Like a kid on Christmas Day, we’re unwrapping our digital gifts because we’re excited by the possibility of something new. We’re constantly feeding that dopamine rush."
Two, we keep chasing that dopamine rush, thinking we’ll reach the bottom of the well at some point. But we never get there. There’s no such thing as inbox zero.
Three, we get stressed because we can never read a person’s emotion. 9 times out of 10, we pick up negativity from messages when it’s not even there. And then, if you’re like me, you spend hours obsessing about what you did wrong and how to fix it—all via email, of course.
And last, it’s human nature to want to respond right away and in equal measure. We start treating every message as though it’s gold when really, only a small percentage of those emails should warrant our attention or a response.
Basically, email anxiety is all in my head.
But if it’s all in my head, is there any hope that things will change? I can’t get a new brain.
There are a lot of tips and hacks out there, even whole books, all focusing on closing browser windows, shutting off notifications, blah, blah, blah. And I’m sure some of this helps. But what seems to be most effective is what I’m doing now…
Frequency scheduling. This gives me the peace of mind that I don’t have to respond immediately because I have designated periods of the day to handle this correspondence. I admit—I’m a work in progress. I’m still looking at notifications and even scanning emails to anticipate my responses. But I’m waiting until those three periods of the day to press send. I hope this keeps me from going crazy and from literally morphing into an inbox.
I’m only a few days into this new approach, so it remains unseen if it’ll work for me long-term, or if I have the willpower to ignore the strobe show happening on my home screen. If it doesn’t, I might have to lock my iPhone in a safe just to get my work done.